12 Informational Interview Questions to Ask and 2 Things You Should Never Ask

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Asking the right informational interview questions will ensure you make the most of this excellent networking opportunity. Asking the wrong questions will cause you to waste this fantastic career building opportunity you've worked hard to create.

Luckily, there are several questions you can ask in an informational interview that will work for many situations and types of work. I've listed 12 informational interview questions to ask below. Make note of as many as you like, to prepare to learn valuable information and make a great impression at your next informational interview.

What is an informational interview, what is their purpose, and why are they important?

12 questions to ask in an informational interview. plus 2 questions you should never ask.

Before we dive into 12 questions you can ask in an informational interview, let's make sure you have the foundation you need to get the most out of your informational interview.

I've written a guide to information interviews. If you need some background answers to questions like:

What is an information interview?

As a job seeker or career changer / planner, how can I benefit from informational interviews?

  • Why are informational interviews important?
  • How to I set up this type of interview?
  • How do I make a great impression?

you'll find answers to those questions in the guide.

Have a look at the Information Interview Guide first, and then you can come back to this page to find several questions you can ask when you go to your informational interview(s).

2 Questions You Should Never Ask in an Informational Interview

If you know all about informational interviews, and you just need some help coming up with questions to ask the employer, let's dive in!

First, let's look at a couple of questions you should avoid asking because they can create a bad impression.

Two questions you should never ask in an information interview:

  1. Avoid asking if the employer or company is hiring right now.
  2. Avoid asking any questions you could have easily answered for yourself with a bit of research.

1. Why You Shouldn't Ask if the Employer is Hiring

When you set up an informational interview, you will tell your contact that you are looking for information, not a job.

If you turn around and ask for a job when you meet with your contact, he or she may feel as though you lied and set up the meeting under false pretenses.

Don't worry, there are other, more effective and subtle ways to find out about job leads during an informational interview.

2. Why You Should Avoid Asking Questions You Could Easily Answer Yourself With a Bit of Research

The person you are meeting is doing you a favor by giving up time to help you with your career planning. If you ask questions that could easily be answered by reading the company's website or doing other simple research, you will not appear to be well prepared, which will make your contact feel you are not truly interested in the work.

Your contact could become an important part of your business network, so you want to do everything you can to make a great impression, which includes coming to the meeting with a good basic knowledge of the industry and the company.

An information interview presents a unique opportunity to gather inside information about an industry. You don't want to waste time gathering information that is easily accessible when you could, instead, be gathering far more valuable information that is not accessible in any other way.

Now that you know what not to ask, here are several great informational interview questions you can ask and why you should ask them.

12 Smart Informational Interview Questions to Ask an Employer

12 questions you can ask in an information interview:

  1. Can you tell me about a typical day on the job?
  2. How did you get started doing this type of work?
  3. What is your favorite part of your job?
  4. What is your least favorite part of your job?
  5. What surprised you the most when you started working in this field?
  6. What is the typical starting salary for someone in this line of work?
  7. How do you see this industry developing in the future? How is your industry changing?
  8. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started in this industry?
  9. What are employers typically looking for when hiring people in this line of work?
  10. My background and experience is (briefly note your major qualifications). How does that compare with employers' expectations when hiring in this industry?
  11. May I have your business card?
  12. Is there anyone else I might talk to about this?

Here's a closer look at each question and why it is effective.

1. Can you tell me about a typical day on the job?

Business people networking in an informational interview. Text overlay - 12 smart questions you can ask an employer at an informational interview.

This is a good opening question because it's an easy question to answer and will help your contact open up and start sharing information. It will provide you with a solid overview of the day to day requirements of the job.

You can learn valuable information when you ask this question. You may know about the more public side of a career that interests you, but there are often a lot of behind the scenes responsibilities that you won't be aware of unless you actually do the job.

Your contact's answer to this question may give you insights into elements of the job you were not aware of.

2. How did you get started doing this type of work?

This informational interview question can provide you with some insight into the typical career path of someone in this line of work as well as information about the skills, education and experience you may need to develop to be marketable in the field.

Notice the question is focused on the person you are interviewing. This tactic is helpful at the beginning of the interview because people generally enjoy talking about themselves. You will show your contact that you are genuinely interested in him or her and build rapport while, at the same time, gathering extremely helpful information.

3. What is your favorite part of your job?

Here's another open ended question focused on the person you are interviewing. It can draw out surprising and rewarding aspects of the job that you might not have considered.

4. What is your least favorite part of your job?

Asking this informational interview question can help draw out any potential downsides of the job that might not be obvious to an outsider.

For example, a workshop facilitator might tell you he dislikes all of the paperwork he has to deal with. If you had simply attended one of the facilitator's workshops, you would see the public part of the job (running workshops), which might appear very appealing. You wouldn't know about the private side of the job (managing a lot of paper work), which might not be as appealing to some people.

5. What surprised you the most when you started working in this field?

This question is also great for drawing out the kind of valuable inside information that only someone in the job could share with you. 

6. What is the typical starting salary for someone in this line of work?

People are generally uncomfortable stating their salaries. They feel it's an extremely personal question.

That's why you should not directly ask your contact how much he or she makes. You will make them extremely uncomfortable and break down any rapport you had built up! However, if you ask about salary in about salary in a more general way, you can often get an idea of the range.

7. How do you see this industry developing in the future? How is your industry changing?

This informational interview question can give you insights into skills you might need in the future. If you develop those skills now, you'll be more competitive when looking for work in the industry.

Additionally, the job might be ideal for you now, but it might be changing in a direction that won't be a good fit for your needs. It's important to find that out in the beginning of the career planning process, so you can make informed decisions about the career choices you will make.

8. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started in this industry?

This question starts to shift the focus of the interview from your contact to you. It is a great informational interview question that can help you discover insider tips for making yourself as marketable as possible in a specific industry.

9. What are employers typically looking for when hiring people in this line of work?

Here's another question that will help you learn what skills you should develop and experiences you should try to gain to be competitive and employable in the industry.

10. My background and experience is (briefly note your major qualifications). How does that compare with employers' expectations when hiring in this industry?

This question is key if you are conducting an informational interview as part of a job search (as opposed to doing the interview as part of a career decision making process).

This informational interview question gives you the opportunity to present some of your qualifications to your contact. If your contact is aware of a job opening, it can prompt him or her to mention that opportunity if your qualifications are a good fit for the job.

This question can also lead to your contact asking for your resume. Never offer your resume in an information interview unless your contact asks for it, but do be prepared to provide one in case you're asked.

If your contact does ask for your resume, you can take that as a great sign that he or she is impressed with you.

11. May I have your business card?

Always ask for a business card at the end of the meeting, so you have all of the information needed to contact this person in the future and to send a thank you note.

12. Is there anyone else I might talk to about this career? May I use your name when I contact that person?

Always ask this informational interview question.

If your contact knows about job openings, this question can prompt him or her to mention those opportunities. Alternatively, your contact may give you the name of another person who you can interview to deepen your knowledge and expand your network. If you can mention your contact's name to the next person you contact, your next interview will be that much easier to arrange.

Some Final TipsNotes on Preparing for an Informational Interview

Type out a list of the informational interview questions you want to ask and bring it with you.

No reasonable person would expect you to memorize all of the questions you want to ask. It's a business meeting, not an exam.

Coming prepared with a tidy list of intelligent informational interview questions you want to ask will make you appear well prepared. It can also help you feel less nervous because remembering your questions will be one less thing to worry about

Once you ask the first couple of questions, you probably won't need the list anymore.

Typically, your interview will turn into more of a conversation, so you won't need the list to generate discussion, but you'll still have your list ready to ensure you get all of the information you need.

It's usually fine to take notes during an informational interview.

Just be sure to ask your contact for permission first to ensure he or she feels comfortable with that.

Always bring your resume to an informational interview.

It's not always appropriate to present your resume during this type of interview, but the conversation may naturally turn in that direction. If your contact asks to see your resume, that's a good sign and you'll want to be prepared.

Bring your own personal business cards to every informational interview.

Your contact may not know about any job leads at the time, but something might come up in the near future, so you'll want to ensure that he or she has all of your contact information.

If you aren't asked for your resume, providing a personal business card is the easiest, most professional way to ensure your contact has your information.

Related: How to set up an informational interview

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